By Brian Homewood
BRASILIA, July 5 (Reuters) - Gonzalo Higuain broke his scoring duck at the World Cup on Saturday and his early goal was pivotal for Argentina as it allowed them to dictate their quarter-final against Belgium on Saturday.
Higuain came into the tournament following an ankle injury at Napoli and had seemed to be struggling to find his touch until his brilliantly-taken volley, the only goal of the game, sunk the Belgians in the eighth minute.
"He needed some mileage after that injury with Napoli," coach Alejandro Sabella told reporters, dismissing suggestions that the 26-year-old, who has played as a lone striker in four of Argentina's five games in Brazil, had been ineffective in the 1-0 second round win over the Switzerland.
"I said after the last game that he was the player who ran the most," said Sabella. "Today, in addition to running, he collaborated and scored a goal which is always important for a forward.
Higuain, who has a French father and turned down an invitation to play for France earlier in his career, gave a selfless performance at the Brasilia national stadium.
With Argentina content to sit back on their lead, he was often a lonely figure in attack and did a superb job in holding up the ball and marking the Belgian defenders when they were trying to play the ball upfield.
Argentina had spent their previous match attacking incessantly against Switzerland before finally breaking through two minutes from the end of extra-time. Higuain's early goal on Saturday allowed them the luxury of sitting back and trying to catch Belgium on the break.
"I knew the goal was going to come and it came at an important time. It's a great joy for us and for our family," said Higuain, who scored four goals at the 2010 World Cup including a hat-trick against South Korea.
"We were able to reach a semi-final which we haven't achieved for many years. Now we need to play well and try and reach the final."
"I said I was relaxed. This group deserves this," he added
"We gave our all, it's a World Cup, it doesn't happen every day. Now we have to think about the next game. There are two matches left to achieve this beautiful dream." (Additional reporting by Patricia Avila in Santiago, Editing by Nigel Hunt)